Mental health is something no one wants to talk about. People dealing with mental health disorders would usually rather talk about anything than what is going on in their heads. Let’s face it, no one wants to be labeled as “crazy.” On the other hand, the family and friends surrounding us with mental illness don’t want to talk about it either. Understandably, most have no idea how to even begin to help this person they love. Guess who that leaves talking about it? No one.

When reading the statistics, it is unbelievable that 20.6 percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults. Worse, 5.2% of U.S. adults experienced severe mental illness in 2019 (13.1 million people), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. An even scarier statistic, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34. The overall suicide rate has increased 35 percent since 1999. Overall, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S; 46 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition and 90 percent who die by suicide have experienced symptoms of a mental health condition.

I have known for a long time, there was something different about me. I can’t say for sure when I began to notice it, but I know that my emotions were full-blown by my freshman year of high school. I took seemingly “silly” things hard. A break-up from a guy I cared nothing about would crush me. Full-blown sobbing to ensue soon after. Usually, a talk would also follow my mental breakdowns. A “constructive” conversation from the people closest to me telling you how insignificant your situation is. So, why did I feel so bad? Other days, I was the funniest person in the room (I may not have been, but I really enjoy my sense of humor, so I thought I was). But some days, I could hit high to low over twenty-four hours.

Sophomore year was pretty consistent with my freshman year. The good news, no one seemed to notice how screwed up I thought I was, so I was flying under the radar. That approach didn’t work for long. By my junior year in high school, I was self-medicating, primarily with alcohol. I was so good at it. My parents wouldn’t have believed it if they caught me. Besides, the couple of times I did get caught in a bad situation, it was easy to blame it on just being a kid. By senior year, I was losing control, and my behavior stayed consistent. At this point, I was getting pretty good at closing people out. That was safe. After I left home to go to college, I took a job at Joe’s Crab Shack down in Bellevue, Kentucky. I finally found a solution that seemed to help my mind work. I worked all the time. It didn’t matter if I closed a shift the night before and had to open the restaurant the next morning because I have never needed more than four or five hours a night to sleep and feel great the next day. When I finally crashed (which was rare), it would be significant, like not getting out of bed for a whole day.

During my twenties, the roller coaster continued. I continued to drink and party, all while maintaining a sixty-plus hour-a-week job. The strangest part about it was there were times I did things, even sober, I was so ashamed of. I had a good raising. I know right from wrong. Bad decisions on my part kept coming. Do not get me wrong, there were days I felt “normal,” and I loved them, but that in-between sweet spot never lasted long, and I would be alone back in my head with my thoughts, thoughts that never stop, overthinking, over-analyzing, taking everything personally. Or I would be on the search for my next “high,” which came in all different forms of risky behavior.

On the outside, though, I was great. I cried by myself. I talked things over in my own head. I did not share the shame that came with bad decisions. There were so many days of infamy. The days were mixed with lows and highs. I was pushing everyone away that would let me. I figured once they got to know the real me, they would go away anyway. But those who accepted me wholly I loved fiercely.

As the series continues, I will share more, but the reality is, it never got better. Instead, my mental illness got worse. The decisions I made as I aged began to come with real consequences that affected more than just me. That is just how it worked. The risky behavior came during those high times and the consequences of my past action began to fade. And I was able to justify it, and I was onto my next wrong decision. I was misdiag-nosed at 33, and the medicine prescribed didn’t help. I couldn’t tell the doctor I wasn’t better, though. I just knew he would know how crazy I was like all the people closest to me.

I am now 37, and I finally have hope after being diagnosed with Bi-Polar 2 disorder in Jan. 2021. I will never forget what my doctor said before I left,“It would be easier for you to leave this office and tell people you have an STD, and they would be more accepting than when you tell them you were diagnosed with Bi-Polar 2. I knew he was right.